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Working Remotely: Maintaining your work-life balance

As the nation transitions to remote working and our schools close, people everywhere are figuring out how to get work done with the kids, housemates, parents and even pets at home.

New developments are unfolding every day and we’re having to react and respond as professionals, parents, carers, partners, employees and managers in a way that few of us will have experienced in our lifetimes.

And while the initial idea of working from home sounds great - the reality, especially over the longer term, can actually be quite different.

How do you ensure you are productive at work, meet your targets and serve your clients, while staying healthy and balancing your work commitments with getting the breaks you need to keep you on top form?

Neil Bailey, client services manager at Merkle provides his tips based on his experience working and managing teams remotely over the last five years.

'Like most important thing in life, the key to a productive day is all in the preparation. Before you sit down to work, I find it’s best to free yourself of distractions and get those minor things that are going to irritate you out of the way first. It’s amazing how a few bits on the carpet or an unmade bed can play on your mind.

So before you work, consider doing the following:

  • Do the dishes
  • Put the washing on
  • Walk the dog

Probably most relevant to the parents among you as we head into a prolonged period of our kids being at home is settling the kids with either some homework, a film or a book. As we don’t yet know how long it’s going to be before they go back to school, think about setting them some assignments. Pick a specific topic on a subject each day, then ask them to go away and prepare an essay or story, some artwork or maybe a presentation. Give them a deadline and encourage them to stick to it.

When it comes to preparing your work space, make sure you start off with one that’s clean and tidy.

Key to a healthy work space is the right amount of lighting and ventilation. It’s easy to keep going as the light fails and then start to strain the eyes when all you need to do is switch on a light.

Take regular, scheduled breaks. I know it sounds obvious, but so many people I am speaking to at the moment who have been thrown into remote working at short notice, without much practice are not finding time for lunch, or regular breaks, which is a mistake.

Make sure you organise scheduled breaks, take lunch and keep hydrated – I like to keep a bottle of water on my desk.

With all the family at home, it’s also important to make sure tech is set up at home.

Got an important video call coming up? Make sure nobody else is streaming Netflix and consuming all your bandwidth!

It’s really important to keep the blood flowing and I suggest exercise. Stand up and walk about every few hours. There are of course certain meetings where you need to be sat at a screen and a desk to comfortably read notes but take advantage of those ones where you are just listening. Get up and walk around, or even make a cup of tea! As long as your video is turned off and your mic is muted, no one will be any the wiser.

Staying connected to your colleagues when working from home is a must – from a business point of view and checking in on priorities and goals, but also from a social point of view. If you’re used to working in the office and socialising with your teams, then there’s no reason not to continue that – just over video chat. I find the following work well:

  • Skype, Teams and WhatsApp are invaluable - use them for checking in on your team. Did they get your email, what’s the ETA on a task etc?
  • Give some feedback: “Great email to the client - well done!”. Remember junior team members in particular benefit from working alongside their colleagues so how can you still encourage them remotely?
  • Share some banter, jokes/memes ask them how they are doing.
  • Normally spend some time sitting with clients? Give them a call each day and drop them more regular updates via email. Give them the assurance everyone is still working optimally.
  • A daily team stand up can be a great way to get everyone focused on the day ahead and equally, virtual socials can also be set up – with or without beers!

Finally, and probably most importantly, make room for personal time. Use your normal commute time wisely. Don’t be tempted to take an extra hour in bed as it’s a hard habit to break when you do need to go to the office. Instead, use that time to do something for yourself. Perhaps you normally read for half an hour on the train, if so then why not still do it. Go for a run, or spend time with your family or housemates. Looking after your well-being is just as important to being productive in your working life. And as much as we talk about getting a work life balance when you’re at work, this still applies when you’re working from home.'